by Carolyn Edlund
Lisa Ober of OA Gallery in Kirkwood, Missouri has some creative ideas on ways that artists can work together with galleries to promote and sell.
OA Gallery has become known as one of their city’s best destinations for representational/traditional art. I recently spoke with gallerist Lisa Ober about their success, and how they have been able to expand three times since they opened four years ago, despite the economic climate.
“Times have changed, but artists and galleries are in this together, and need to be a team effort,” she said. “We are thriving because of the participation of all the artists we represent.”
OA Gallery represents local and regional Midwestern artists, and twice a year they have a meeting with their artists on ways to mutually promote the gallery and the artists. Because of the cooperation of these permanent resident artists, OA is beginning to expand beyond the Midwest. They have come up with a variety of strategies to cross-promote, including:
Artist appearances after a show opening. The artist may come in on a Saturday to give an hour-long talk about their work, and take questions from the audience.
“This gives the artist an opportunity to share with people expressing a clear interest in the work an idea of their vision, inspiration, medium or message,” says Ober, “It helps the artist share his/her enthusiasm for their work. People love meeting the artists and making a deeper connection with the art.”
Artist outreach via social media. Ober considers this “critical” to their success. Artists use their own social media extensively to promote events at the gallery, and gallery talks, as well as sharing each other’s work and sing the praises of the gallery’s offerings.
Co-op advertising. This strategy promotes the artist and the gallery together, and the costs are split.
Ober recalls, “Though we are in a lovely historic shopping district with walk-in traffic, one of our artists suggested we begin promoting the gallery in a well-read local paper. All of the resident artists volunteered to contribute to the expense and we will do this again.”
Email marketing. Artist and gallery newsletters go out to their respective lists to maximize reach and bring in as many people as possible to browse and learn about the gallery and the art.
“Each artist sends their own newsletter, but includes invitations to gallery events,” she said. “All of the artists benefit from this and word of our beautiful gallery spreads as a result.”
Event invitations. The gallery provides more than just one invitation, and these are tailored to be used in multiple ways.
“One of the owners of OA Gallery, Shawn Cornell, has an extensive background in design and prepares beautiful digital invitations in three formats for sharing our exhibit information,” Ober explained. “The various formats are sized appropriately for social media, blogging, short and long newsletter format and for press releases. This way we keep a consistent look and feel to gallery literature as we continue to brand the gallery.”
Cooperative efforts to gain press exposure. Artists as well as the gallery solicit local press, mentioning it as an art destination in the region. The gallery has a generous group of artists who do their best to mention OA Gallery in their own public interviews and articles.
Website links. Represented artists list OA gallery on their own websites with a link, and direct interested parties in the local area to the gallery to view their work and make a purchase. This solidifies the gallery/artist relationship, as the gallery is the “go to” place for purchases. It serves to offer one consistent price for artwork to the public and a perfect setting for viewing and closing the deal.
“We have never had a problem with an artist undercutting the gallery in selling work,” said Ober. “In fact, the gallery is often used a meeting place for the artists’ clients. It provides a beautiful and professional backdrop for delivery of commissioned work. I personally offer the gallery as a meeting place for delivery of my commissioned work.”
Gala openings. The gallery creates a catered affair for each opening, which draws new people in. Most attendees are surprised with their discovery of a hidden gem in the area, and appreciate the atmosphere and high level of artwork displayed.
“It has taken some trial and error, but we have decided that professionally catered events are the best option for us,” explained Ober. “We have always offered excellent appetizers and wine, but we are finding that people are looking forward to Chef Coria’s seasonal specialties. We love that we are able to help promote Chef Coria in our exhibit invitations as she continues to build her business. Win-win!
Other events for artist exposure. The gallery can be rented for private parties, and the artists whose works are shown are invited to attend. They become “special guests” who share their inspiration and story with the group. Ober mentions that openings and receptions are “where the exposure and interest begins.”
Participating artists understand that exposure is everything, and are eager to attend these events, which provide opportunities to talk about their work with a captive audience, leading to further connections and sales.
Community outreach. The gallery works with schools and local art organizations, bringing in student work and group shows to introduce their venue to a wide audience, as well as highlight the work of emerging artists.
“Our gallery has established relationships with local colleges and art organizations and gives these unrepresented artists opportunities to exhibit,” Ober shared. “This is a wonderful opportunity for students and it gives the gallery additional exposure. It is also an opportunity for us to see work we might otherwise have missed. This may lead to representation for some young artists and it is a great resume builder for students.”
Gallery time for each artist. Part of OA Gallery’s strategy is to have permanent resident artists spend one day each month at the gallery, which is of mutual benefit.
“The artists themselves are their own best salespeople,” says Ober. “No one can put the enthusiasm and passion into a description of a work of art like the artists can. People love meeting the artists… so much so that our public calendar now states which artist is representing the gallery on a given day. Many people make a point of coming to talk with the scheduled artist while they are at the gallery.”